While greatly influenced by the policies of several national organizations with local affiliates, I get my direction and marching orders based on the needs and concerns of the people of my district. All politics are local! For those still questioning my motivation and loyalty, I sponsored the Voter I.D. legislation in the Senate on behalf of Black and Latino constituents concerned about voter fraud. They want the integrity of the system to be above reproach, and so do I.
For decades many of us have heard complaints about voter fraud. My State Representative, Anastasia Williams, and her daughter, whom I represent in the Senate, had their vote stolen one election. There have been numerous anecdotal complaints that have spanned the last two decades that have been ignored. My question is, why are some so willing to sacrifice the voter integrity of our system on the altar of fear, while only being concerned about what may potentially happen?
I cannot accept the logic of those who dismiss this by saying that “there have been no formal complaints filed.” The old system was not set up to readily weed out fraud; and it would be very hard to prove. Moreover, winners on election night would soon forget about any fraud, while the losers’ concerns would be dismissed as sour grapes. We know that many rapes and other crimes go unreported. Does this mean that unreported rapes did not occur? We cannot allow the integrity of our system to be violated.
I had personally reached a point where I could no longer duck this issue. Little did I know at the time that I would become part of the national debate. I have been accused of being a “sell out” by many on the left, and defecting to the Tea Party. I have also been complimented by those on the right (although they feel that the R.I. law is too liberal).
My motivation, as I said, was in direct response to the concerns of my constituents (a majority of them Democrats in a majority minority community), who have complimented me for the passage of the Voter I.D. Law. It is important to note that there was little opposition to the legislation when it was heard before the Senate Judiciary Committee (only one group opposed it, the ACLU).
I can understand the concern of those in states that have a Republican-controlled legislature. I am also well aware of the opposition that President Obama is facing. But this is not the Jim Crow south of the 1960s, and Rhode Island has been traditionally a majority Democratic state for many decades. For this reason, the passage of the R.I. law was seen as an anomaly on the national landscape. But it is important to remember that the R.I. law incorporates provisions from the Indiana photo I.D. law that the U.S. Supreme Court upheld in 2008; and it includes a free state voter I.D. card for anyone who needs one. Furthermore, at the polls, if someone doesn’t have an I.D., they will be provided with a provisional ballot, and if the signature matches that of their registration card at the local board of canvassers, their vote will be counted.
You need an I.D. for just about everything today. When I applied for Social Security, I was told that checks are no longer mailed, and that I would have to go to a financial institution to set up an account for direct deposit. The bank required my I.D. (driver’s license). When released from the ACI, former prisoners are given an I.D. My formerly homeless cousin told me how the shelter he stayed at helped him get an I.D. so that he could get a free bus pass and participate in the social service network of programs.
Historically, when Black people know the rules of the game they follow them to the letter and participate in the process. I take exception to those who give credence to stereotypes about our alleged inability or limited intelligence to participate in the democratic process. Moreover, as a candidate, I will make certain that those supporting me have a voter I.D., or know about the provisional ballot.
This is not the time to play Chicken Little (the sky is falling; fear of potential disenfranchisement). Again, we cannot afford to sacrifice the integrity of the system on the altar of fear. I have written the Secretary of State and several advocates urging them to work together to properly implement this new law. One recommendation I made was to have a roving mobile van visit poor neighborhoods to accommodate those who need a free voter I.D. It would behoove the advocates to also meet with the Board of Elections with their input. Energies are needed from our local and national organizations, to enhance voter registration and education and to make sure that poll workers are properly trained.
For me it is not about red or blue states, or who is on the right or who is on the left. It’s about doing the right thing! I would unashamedly and unabashedly take the same action, knowing that God knows my heart and my efforts on behalf of my constituents. It’s time to stop crying wolf and make the voter I.D. law work for those on both sides of this issue who want to insure the integrity of the system, while guarding against disenfranchisement. This is the goal that we all should have and now the challenge is to move beyond talk and take action.
Harold M. Metts is the State Senator from District 6, Providence, and was the principal Senate sponsor of the Voter ID legislation that was enacted this year. A seven-year member of the Senate, he previously served in the House of Representatives. He is a Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate, Vice Chair of the Senate Committee on Education and a member of the Senate Committee on Judiciary.